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Jungle Hiking to El Tigre Waterfall in Colombia

Here is your ultimate adventure guide to exploring one of the best waterfalls in Colombia's lesser-known Pacific Region.

By: Madalyne Staab + Save to a List

When planning our travel itinerary to El Valle, Colombia - a small colorful town on the little-known Colombian Pacific Coast - we knew we wanted to head out into the jungle to check out as many waterfalls as possible. Luckily, the area around El Valle, and its larger neighbor Bahia Solano, have plenty of cascadas to offer.

But one waterfall stood out in particular: El Tigre. With a name as epic as that - el tigre means the tiger in Spanish - we knew we had to make the journey out to see it for ourselves. Luckily, we found a guide willing to do the four-hour jungle hike with us.

The hike, which crosses black sand beaches, rocky tidepools, thick jungle and many other waterfalls, is an absolute dream adventure. While it is rather tough, we were so incredibly happy we took it on. For by the end we both agreed that this hike was one of our favorite adventures in all of Colombia.

If you are planning a trip to El Valle or Bahia Solano in the Pacific Region of Colombia and are looking to combine a day in the jungle with a couple of waterfall swims, then this hike is for you. Below is a breakdown of everything you need to know about hiking to El Tigre Waterfall in El Valle, Colombia.

\\ Do You Need a Guide to Visit El Tigre Waterfall?

As you might guess from other articles on the site (like this one) we are usually very much the type of people who like to adventure alone - aka without a guide. We just really enjoy the freedom that comes with hiking by yourself. But with that being said, while we originally did want to do the El Tigre Waterfall hike sans guide, we ended up booking one after looking at both the terrain and learning more about the actual trail conditions.

But in the end, we were so glad we got a guide because we not only got through the jungle mostly unscathed, but we also learned so much about the area, the culture and the wildlife that calls this part of Choco, Colombia home.

DETAILS

| COST: 130000 - 150000 COP per person, or around $33 - $39 USD / €29 - €34 Euros; this includes lunch and the boat ride back to El Valle

| FINDING A GUIDE: we found our guide after talking to our host, Jhon at Utria Hostel. Our guide, Kike, was absolutely amazing. He knew so much about the area, including the different plants and animals, as well as the overall history of the region - including where the name El Tigre came from.


\\ Time Needed to Hike to El Tigre Waterfall

There are two options for reaching El Tigre Waterfall: hiking and boating. We of course recommend doing the hike (that is what this adventure guide will cover), but if you are short on time but still want to see the stunning waterfall then taking a boat out is not a bad idea. We still suspect that you will need a guide to go with if taking a boat since we don't know if you can just hire a boat in town on your own.

The Hike: the whole hike takes around 4 hours to go from El Valle to El Tigre. The trail meanders its way across sandy beaches and up jungle mountains, and therefore it is rather slow going.

Taking a Boat: it takes about 15 minutes to reach El Tigre from El Valle (and vice-versa) so if you are short on time then this is a great way to see the waterfall and the beach without spending a lot of time.

\\ When to Do the El Tigre Waterfall Hike

If you want to do the hike to El Tigre - which of course we highly recommend - then you will need to start early in the morning when the tides are usually lower (the first bit is on the beach). In terms of weather and time of year, unless you are visiting during the dry season (February and March) then you will likely be doing a majority of the adventure in the rain. Luckily, even during the rainy season the temperature always hovers around 26° C / 79° F.

💬 INSIDER TIP: we originally wanted to take a boat out to the waterfall first and then hike back to town, but after talking with our guide we were told that that would likely be impossible because of the tides. We don’t know if this is always the case, so if you are looking to maybe do that route then it doesn’t hurt to ask just in case it is possible. We also tried to see if we could hike both ways, but again we were told that the tides would be a problem. But more so it likely wouldn't be that fun of a time because we would already be tired from the hike to the waterfall. After doing the hike we would actually agree with this sentiment.

\\ What to Bring On the El Tigre Waterfall Hike


Sturdy Shoes

This is an absolute must for this hike. Most of the trail is done either along slick rocky beaches (especially during or after a rainstorm) or in the thick jungle. Similarly, the trail is very much up and down and there are a couple of sections that are incredibly steep and slick. Make sure to have shoes with good grip and enclosed toes.

We wore our running shoes and they handled the terrain relatively well.

Light Rain Jacket and Rain Protection

If you are someone who doesn’t mind being a bit wet during your adventure then a light rain jacket is probably all you need. While this region of Colombia is incredibly wet, it is also very warm and humid. You do NOT want to be hiking around the jungle wearing a thick rain jacket even if it is downpouring. Instead, carry a light rain jacket (or clothes that wick moisture really well) and a rain cover for your bag and/or gear.


Sunscreen and Sun Protection

While the Choco area doesn’t experience much sun most of the year, there is still always a chance of being blasted by the sun while hiking - especially on the wide-open beaches. Make sure to bring sunscreen that is good for you and the planet (like these ones). Or take the easy route and wear sun-protective clothing or bring an umbrella that works well as a sun guard.

Bug Spray

This is a MUST for all adventures in this part of Colombia (and really everywhere else in the country). We recommend finding the strongest bug spray you can and bringing it with you on the hike so you can reapply it after swimming in the many waterfalls and natural pools.

Clothes You Won’t Mind Getting Dirty, Sweaty, and Wet

If you are doing this adventure right, then you will likely find yourself soaked from either the rain or the numerous waterfalls you can swim in, muddy from the jungle trail and sweaty from the long, somewhat arduous hike. Therefore, make sure to wear clothes that can handle all three.

We wore simple active shorts and wicking shirts for the hike and brought two light jackets in case the rain really picked up. In the end, we never really needed the rain jackets but were glad we wore wicking t-shirts that dried out quickly after swimming in the pools.

❔ GOOD TO KNOW: you can also bring a swimsuit if you don’t feel like swimming in the clothes you hiked in. There are changing rooms available at the building you will eat lunch in right next to El Tigre Waterfall. Or you can also just hike in your swimming clothes. Or, you can go the Luke route and just swim in your underwear :)


🗣 What’s In A Name?

You might expect that the name El Tigre Waterfall comes from an actual tiger for el tigre literally translates to the tiger. But actually, tigers do not and have never lived in this part of the world. Instead, according to local legend, the name comes from way back in the day when a couple of locals (possibly local women) were relaxing near the waterfall and they saw a big cat in the jungle nearby.

From then on the waterfall and the area around it - which has over time become a quasi-nature reserve - has been given the name El Tigre. It is more likely that the animal seen was a jaguar, which, though highly elusive, has been spotted in the El Valle area.

HIKING TO EL TIGRE WATERFALL IN CHOCO, COLOMBIA


START: 8 AM

END: 3 PM

TOTAL TIME: 7 HOURS, ~4 HOURS OF WHICH IS SPENT HIKING

Overall, we would categorize this hike as being 3.5 out of 5 in terms of difficulty. This is mostly due to the actual trail conditions and not necessarily the length or time needed. The hiking trail covers an equal dose of beach walking and jungle trekking - with the latter sections often being quite steep and slick. In total, you will hike along three beaches (one of which is quite rocky) and over three "mountains" - which are really just somewhat tall hills.

We highly suggest wearing shoes that can handle very slick sections that are often straight down (aka steep). Even for us, two seasoned hikers, we found ourselves slipping and sliding all over the trail. Similarly, make sure to wear clothes that you don't mind getting dirty and even torn. Finally, a hike in the jungle is never without its dangers. Therefore always keep your wits about you and make sure to look out for loose rocks, spiky branches and wildlife.



1. Playa Almejal

The El Tigre Waterfall hike starts right on the edge of El Valle. The first 45 minutes or so is done along Playa Almejal - the main beach near the town and the one that is in front of all of the traveler hostels.

At low tide - which is likely when you will be starting the hike - the beach is super wide and quite easy to hike along. If you are doing it in the right season (June - September) you have the chance to spot various wildlife; including, sea turtles, whales out in the water and sea birds coming to eat the numerous crabs (cangrejos) along the beach.


2. Jungle ~ Mountain #1

Soon enough you will leave Playa Almejal and head into the jungle for your first mountain section. The trail, which is totally hidden by thick jungle plants (this is when we first realized a guide for the hike was absolutely necessary), starts climbing quickly up to the top of a grassy ridge before flattening out for a bit. Here you can get amazing views of the water breaking on the beach below as well as see an old home that once belonged to a female scientist named Natasha.

💬 INSIDER TIP: the old white house next to the trail used to be the home of a woman named Natasha. From what we gathered from our guide Kiko, Natasha was a scientist who studied the area's plants and helped the local communities with farming. The first mountain you hike up is also known as Montana Natasha (Natasha Mountain). As far as we could tell, the house seemed abandoned.

3. Playa Larga

The second beach you will come to is also quite large - hence the name Playa Larga or Large Beach. The beach is very nice and it creates a little cove with many rocks on the edges. We happened to do the first half of the hike in a slight drizzle of rain, so the beach seemed extra moody. But we suspect that during a sunny day (the few that exist in this part of Colombia) the beach is absolutely stunning thanks to its contrasting black-ish sand color and giant vibrant green palm trees.

You will hike along the whole beach, which takes a good 30 minutes or so. There is also the chance to look at a few smaller waterfalls in the jungle during this beach section.

4. Jungle ~ Mountain #2

The second section of jungle you will get to hike through is a bit steeper and rougher than the first mountain. This was the one section of the trail that we fell the most, mostly thanks to the high number of slick tree roots and steep downhill section that eventually lead to a small freshwater river.

Luckily, your guide will likely be able to help you with some of the trickier sections, including helping you down some of the loose, rocky areas.

5. Beach with More Jungle Waterfalls

The third beach is much rockier than Playa Larga (which also has its fair share of slick, rocky sections). This section of the hike is really cool because it gives you the chance to look at various natural tidepools (or acuarios) full of colorful fish and other sea creatures.

Along this beach, you also have the chance to check out a few more waterfalls, many of which are just a short hike into the jungle. Unfortunately, we did not get the chance to swim in these waterfalls during our hike.


6. Jungle ~ Mountain #3 (The Final Push)

The final jungle section is likely the steepest and most dangerous. The first uphill section runs right next to a lovely waterfall. The trail during this part is mostly loose rock with a few trees thrown in for some extra spice. Take your time here and always make sure you are looking out for rocks falling from above and also for rocks you are kicking loose below.

Once you get to the top of this mountain - the highest point in the hike - you will walk for a bit through the jungle. Our guide, Kiko, made sure to point out many different plants here, including different types of palm trees and their various uses by the local indigenous tribes.

Soon enough you will start the climb back down to the beach below. The downhill section on this mountain is one of the sketchiest so you definitely want to make sure you are paying attention. For the most part, you will be half crouching, half scooting down the side of the mountain on your bum. Once again, take your time, go slow and always look out for loose rocks and sticks.

Once you get to the bottom - which takes about 30 minutes from the top of the mountain to the bottom - you will finally reach the first half of El Tigre Beach (there are two sections).

7. El Tigre Beach - Part 1

Once you land on the beach you will be welcomed by another beautiful site: towering palm trees, breaking waves and colorful sand. Good job, you made it through the toughest part of the hike. From here it is just a simple walk along a couple of rocky sections until you make it to the famous El Tigre Waterfall.

The first stop though is El Tigre Cave (cueva), which is a large natural cave right on the beach. The cave, which fills up almost completely during high tide, is full of fluttering bats. We would suggest that if you are afraid of bats stick to just the entrance for they will fly within a couple of inches of you (the whole place feels very Batman movie-esque).

After the cave, you will start making your way up the beach. Along the way, you will likely stop at a large waterfall that drains right onto the beach (similar to El Tigre). We spent a good 30 minutes here just swimming in the water, which is a nice refreshing temperature. The waterfall is made up of two small pools, both of which are a couple of meters deep (you can easily jump off the side and not touch the bottom).

Once you get your fill of swimming, you will walk the final section of the beach - which can be a bit slick - until you reach El Tigre Beach and El Tigre Waterfall.

8. El Tigre Beach - Part 2

While El Tigre Waterfall might be the big ticket item on this hike, we also think the numerous smaller waterfalls that lead to the main falls are just as amazing. To reach them you will head up a long wooden staircase on the side of the beach and into the deep jungle. Then once you reach the top you will start the somewhat slow process of walking up through the river, which is made up of small waterfalls and pools.

The walk up the river is (like the rest of the hike) quite slick. Once again, take your time and make sure you are only carrying items you don't mind getting wet.

Soon you will reach a couple of deeper pools which are perfect for swimming. The jungle scenery is absolutely beautiful - and once you mix in a freshwater swim in a natural pool fed by a waterfall you get pure magic. Absolutely heavenly.

All too soon it will be time to head back to the beach for lunch.

💬 INSIDER TIP: our guide Kiko explained that you can actually hike up the river that feeds El Tigre Waterfall for a whopping 8 kilometers and the river will always just be made up of small waterfalls. Now that would be a long but fun day in the jungle.


9. Lunch

After finishing the hike you will likely be quite famished, luckily the owners of El Tigre Waterfall (which is now a quasi-nature preserve) know how to cook up an incredible plate of food. The lunch meal consists of smoked fish, fried plantains (patacones), slightly sweet coconut rice and a fresh onion and tomato salad, washed down with fresh lemonade with panela.

This was seriously one of the best meals we had in all of Colombia. Plus, the view from the lunch table is absolutely unreal.

10. Relax on El Tigre Beach

After lunch, you will have a bit of time to hang out on El Tigre Beach. The amount of time you get to chill and explore the area depends on how long it takes you to get to the beach, how long it takes you to eat lunch and more importantly, the tides. If you have the time, make sure to go for a swim in El Tigre Waterfall and also look for shells along the beach.

We were given 30 minutes or so to explore the beach before hopping in the small wooden boat back to El Valle.

11. Boat Back to El Valle

The ride back to El Valle is a lot of fun and surprisingly fast (it takes all of 15 minutes). You head out of the small cove next to El Tigre Waterfall and then just out in the ocean a bit until you turn a corner and see El Valle in front of you. You will be dropped off at El Nativo Restaurant, which is located on the same road that heads out to the hostels.

\\ Where to Stay in El Valle, Colombia


Utria Hostel

We highly recommend staying at Utria Hostel, which is located along the dirt road that runs along Playa Almejal. This hostel sits right on the edge of the jungle and even has a small natural pool and waterfall in the back. The real selling point though is the third-story hangout area that includes comfortable couches, hammocks and a community kitchen. And if you are really lucky you might get to meet the resident parrot (Lorenzo) who likes to come for breakfast and rest on the wooden beams.

Plus, the owner Jhon is an absolute rock star when it comes to giving you insightful tips for exploring the area. Plus, he knows practically everyone in town and can get you the best guides around.

DETAILS

| COST: $31 USD / €28 Euros per night for a private room with a private bathroom and $10 USD / €9 Euros for a bed in a mixed dorm room.

| WHERE: the hostel is located about 20 minutes (walking) from the center of town. It is one of the first hostels along the road to the north of town. You can find the exact location of Utria Hostel here.

| BOOK: we booked our stay at Utria Hostel with Hostelworld. You can book your stay there as well here. Also check out all of Hostelworld's other options, for El Valle and Bahia Solano and the rest of the world, here.

Other Options

Most of the other lodging options in El Valle will be similarly priced (around $30 USD / €28 Euros) per night for a private room. Similarly, almost all of the hostels in town are located along the same dirt road that runs out of town and along Playa Almejal.

Some other good spots to look into are Humpback Turtle, a traveler favorite and some say the most remote hostel in all of Colombia, Hakuna Matata, a more upbeat, party hostel, and The Pelican House, a chill spot right on the beach.

You can book your stay at any of the above hostels at Hostelworld.

\\ How to Get to El Valle, Colombia


Plane

The most common way to reach El Valle is to first fly into Bahia Solano, the large town about 30 minutes away from El Valle. Major cities that have flights to Bahia Solano are Medellin, Cartago (a small town in the Valle del Cauca department) and Quibdo, the capital of the Choco department (of which Bahia Solano and El Valle are also a part of).

The Jose Celestino Mutis Airport is located about 1.5 kilometers from Bahia Solano along the road out to El Valle (the only road from town). The airport contains only one rather small runway and two rooms - one of which has a tiny store and craft shop selling local trinkets (the other has the three check-in counters).

❔ GOOD TO KNOW: the airport is infamous for delayed flights due to weather, so much so that it has earned the nickname, “Get Out While You Can”. If you are planning to fly in or out of the Bahia Solano airport make sure to give yourself pleeeeenty of leeway between other connections (by plane or bus) in case of a delay.

From the airport, you will need to catch a taxi - either in a car or in a tuk-tuk, to El Valle. The ride takes about 30 minutes and costs 15000 COP ($3.80 USD / €3.40 Euros) per person. You can get a taxi right outside of the airport.


Boat

Another way to reach this part of the Colombian Pacific Coast is to take a boat - though compared to flying, this option is much more difficult and time-consuming.

The only boats that dock in Bahia Solano and El Valle are either from the small town of Nuqui, another popular coastal town to the south or from the large city of Buenaventura. We don't know the exact schedule for these boats but have heard that the slow boat takes around 24 hours to go between Bahia Solano/El Valle and Buenaventura, while the boat between Nuqui takes two hours.

\\ Sustainable Travel in El Valle and at El Tigre Waterfall

Just like everywhere else you travel to, it is incredibly important to be a responsible and sustainable traveler. This includes focusing on leaving the smallest trace of you actually being there. To do this don't litter (duh), take only photos, don't disturb the wildlife and plant life, and be respectful of different cultures and ways of life.

A couple more responsible travel tips include only using reusable water bottles and NOT buying plastic bottles, and wearing sunscreen that doesn't hurt the marine life (or better yet, take steps to protect yourself from the sun that doesn't involve sunscreen - like using an umbrella).

No matter where you travel, it is important to be a good steward of the planet. Learn more about sustainable travel, including some easy, insightful tips, here.


\\ Helpful Spanish Terms to Know

| Tigre - tiger

| Cascada - waterfall

| Playa - beach

| Cangrejo - crab

| Camaron - shrimp

| Acuario - aquarium, but in this case, really large tide pools on the beach

We honestly couldn't have asked for a better jungle and beach adventure. The whole hike from El Valle to El Tigre Waterfall was incredibly beautiful, exciting and so different than other adventures we had been on before. It was the type of hike that pushes you out of your comfort zone - but in a good way.

If you have the time we cannot recommend going the hike for yourself. Plus, the reward of swimming in El Tigre Waterfall and the many smaller waterfalls that feed it is absolutely worth it.

While we hope this adventure guide answered all of your pressing questions on hiking to El Tigre Waterfall, if you have any other questions about this adventure - or just traveling Colombia in general - then please leave us a comment below.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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